How Long Should You Wear a Retainer After Braces? Experts Explain


How Long Should You Wear a Retainer After Braces? Experts Explain

After the journey of wearing braces, achieving that perfect smile feels like a monumental victory. However, the process doesn’t end once the braces come off. Wearing a retainer is a crucial step in maintaining the alignment and health of your newly straightened teeth. But how long should you wear a retainer after braces? Let’s delve into the details and hear what the experts have to say.

The best and cheapest dentistry is when the right thing is done extremely well the first time and it lasts for a long time.” – Charles Mayo, was an American Medical Practitioner and was one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic

Understanding the Role of Retainers

Retainers are custom-made devices, usually made of plastic or metal, that help maintain the position of your teeth after braces. Once braces are removed, the teeth are at risk of shifting back to their original positions. This is where retainers come in, acting as a holding pattern to stabilise teeth in their new alignment.

Why Do We Wear Retainers After Braces?

According to a blog by Orthodontics Australia, there is still important maintenance work that needs to be done after braces are removed. A key part of looking after your teeth post-treatment is wearing retainers to help keep the teeth in their corrected positions.

Preventing Relapse

The primary purpose of retainers is to prevent relapse, a term used to describe the tendency of teeth to move back to their pre-treatment positions. This is particularly crucial in the first few months after braces removal when teeth are most likely to shift.

Stabilising New Position

Wearing a retainer helps stabilise the bones and soft tissues that hold the teeth in their new position. It allows the surrounding gums and bones to adapt to the new alignment, making the changes more permanent.

Ensuring Long-term Success

Consistent retainer use ensures the long-term success of orthodontic treatment. Without a retainer, the time and investment put into braces can be compromised, leading to misalignment and the potential need for further treatment.

How Long Should You Wear a Retainer?

Orthodontic experts agree that the duration of retainer wear can vary depending on individual needs and the specifics of the orthodontic treatment. However, some general guidelines can help you understand what to expect.

Immediately After Braces

Full-time Wear: For the first three to six months after braces removal, it is usually recommended to wear retainers full-time. This means wearing them for about 22 hours a day, removing them only for eating, drinking, and oral hygiene practices.

Transition Period

Night-time Wear: After the initial phase of full-time wear, patients can transition to wearing their retainers only at night. This phase typically lasts for about 6 to 12 months. During this period, the teeth are still adjusting, but the risk of significant movement has decreased.

Long-term Maintenance

Permanent Night-time Wear: Many orthodontists advise continuing to wear retainers at night indefinitely. This long-term maintenance phase helps ensure that the teeth remain in their desired positions. As one orthodontist puts it, “Retention is a lifetime commitment.”

Different Types of Retainers

There are several types of retainers, each with its own set of advantages and considerations.

Hawley Retainers

These are traditional retainers made of a combination of metal wires and acrylic. They are adjustable and durable, allowing for minor adjustments over time.

Clear Plastic Retainers

Often referred to as Essix retainers, these are clear and fit snugly over the teeth, making them less noticeable. However, they may need to be replaced more frequently due to wear and tear.

Fixed Retainers

These are bonded to the back of the teeth and are typically used for the lower front teeth. They offer the advantage of being permanent, so there’s no need to remember to wear them. However, they require meticulous oral hygiene to prevent plaque buildup.

As the blog Life Before and After Braces mentioned, every patient is unique, therefore the retainers, the amount of time needed to wear them will be customised for every individual.

Expert Tips for Retainer Care

Proper care of your retainer is crucial to ensure its effectiveness and longevity. Here are some expert tips:

Clean Regularly

Just like your teeth, retainers need to be cleaned regularly. Use a soft toothbrush and mild soap, or a retainer cleaning solution, to keep them free from bacteria and plaque.

Avoid Heat

Do not expose your retainers to heat, such as hot water or direct sunlight, as this can cause them to warp and become ineffective.

Handle with Care

Retainers are delicate and can break easily. Handle them with care, especially when removing and inserting them.

Keep in a Case

When not in use, always store your retainer in its case to prevent loss or damage.

What Happens If You Don’t Wear Your Retainer?

Failing to wear your retainer as prescribed can lead to several issues:

Teeth Shifting

The most immediate consequence is that your teeth will begin to shift back to their original positions. This can occur surprisingly quickly, sometimes within a few weeks.


If you stop wearing your retainer and then try to wear it again after some time, you may experience discomfort due to the teeth having moved.

Costly Corrections

Neglecting retainer wear can result in the need for additional orthodontic treatments, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” –  Thich Nhat Hanh, was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist Monk, Peace Activist, Prolific Author, Poet and Teacher

Wearing a retainer is an essential part of the orthodontic process, ensuring that the time and effort invested in braces yield lasting results. The duration of retainer wear can vary, but the consensus among experts is that it should become a long-term habit, particularly at night. By following the prescribed guidelines and caring for your retainer properly, you can maintain your beautiful smile for a lifetime.

If you have any questions or concerns about your retainer, it’s always best to consult with your orthodontist. They can provide personalised advice and adjustments to your treatment plan to ensure the best possible outcome. By understanding the importance of retainers and adhering to the recommended wear schedule, you can confidently step forward with a smile that’s not only beautiful but built to last.

For more information on orthodontic treatments and retainer care, consider reaching out to professional Ellenbrook Orthodontics, where expert care and individualised treatment plans are at the forefront of their practice. Plan your orthodontic visit today!


Why do we need to wear retainers after braces?

Retainers are essential after braces to prevent your teeth from shifting back to their original positions. They help stabilise your new smile by allowing the surrounding gums and bones to adapt to the new alignment.

How long should I wear a retainer after braces?

Initially, you should wear your retainer full-time for the first 3-6 months, then transition to night-time wear. Many orthodontists recommend wearing it at night indefinitely to maintain your smile.

What happens if I don’t wear my retainer?

If you don’t wear your retainer as prescribed, your teeth may shift back to their pre-treatment positions, leading to misalignment and potentially requiring further orthodontic treatment.

Can I stop wearing my retainer after a few years?

While some movement is natural over time, it’s best to continue wearing your retainer at night indefinitely to ensure your teeth stay aligned. Consult your orthodontist for personalised advice.

How should I clean my retainer?

Clean your retainer daily using a soft toothbrush and mild soap or a retainer cleaning solution. Avoid hot water, as it can warp the retainer. Proper care ensures its effectiveness and longevity.

What are the different types of retainers?

There are three main types of retainers: Hawley retainers (metal wires and acrylic), clear plastic retainers (Essix), and fixed retainers (bonded to the back of teeth). Each has its own benefits and maintenance requirements.

Can I eat and drink while wearing my retainer?

It’s best to remove your retainer while eating and drinking to prevent damage and maintain hygiene. Always place it in its case to avoid loss or damage.

How often should I replace my retainer?

Retainers can wear out over time. Hawley retainers can last many years with proper care, while clear plastic retainers may need replacement more frequently. Regular check-ups with your orthodontist can help determine when a replacement is necessary.

Discover how we can help you or your child achieve a perfect smile. Book a consult now with our specialists at Ellenbrook Orthodontics and take the first step towards a healthier, more aligned smile.

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